Basic Space 2017 kicks off this week and I have been lucky enough to get a behind the scenes glimpse at proceedings. All this week, I will be posting interviews, reviews and photos from my experience.
This site-sensitive festival sees theatre companies take over two safe houses, each interpreting and utilising the space in a different way. Earlier this week, I spoke to cmd+shift whose 4* show Chronos sees just one audience member immersed in their world at a time. Three Pegs Productions is also staging an immersive show but for a larger audience: DRINKS is a house warming party where the ‘drama will escalate, characters will fall out, and there [will be] arguments!’ I spoke to writer Sophie Andrea Mitchell about writing immersive theatre, the unique safe-house space and how the themes ring true for young, London audiences.
Rona Kelly: Thanks for joining us! If you’d like to start by introducing your company and the show.
Sophie Andrea Mitchell: Three Pegs Productions is a company run by three women, firm friends who met about eight or nine years ago. This is our third show and we’ve been escalating them in size and audience and ambition each time! This is our first time collaborating with anyone, so it’s great to be with Basic Space and working with other theatre makers. The actual show is an immersive, interactive and site-specific show. We’ve been making the most of the fact that it’s a real house, so we are having a house warming party! All the audience members are guests at that house party, so as they arrive they’ll be welcomed in as if they’re old friends or they’re friends of Dave or they’re friends of Laura. They’ll be shown around the house and basically chatting as if they were friends. As the night progresses, it becomes more like regular theatre in that we’ll have bits of conversation that are more like traditional scenes. The drama will escalate, characters will fall out, there are arguments! There are underlining tensions about old friendships changing, dynamics changing, the pressure of being a couple who have just bought a house together and are co-habiting. All of that comes to the fore and then drama ensues!
So that’s the play and we’re hoping to make people think about the social pressure which we’re all under: presenting this idea of a perfect relationship and a perfect home, especially in London where house prices are so crazy that it puts huge pressure on people. But at the same time it’s just fun and everyone should have a good time.
RK: I think the immersive element will definitely entice a lot of people.
SAM: I hope so!
RK: How do you go about planning something which is partially going to be audience led?
SAM: We have got a script…I’m always saying script in inverted commas! Because it will change! We also workshop very early on with the actors, so we’re writing the script with the actors in mind. We’re giving them a vague idea of the scene, saying: ‘This is the scene where you fall out. It’s about paint colour!’ Then we let them run with it and we’re kind of building a script with what they come up with organically. We’ve actually done five drafts, and we’ve worked on each draft with the director and with the actors. So we have quite a refined version of the script.
Once we’ve gone into rehearsals, they can ad lib, they can change what they say. They’ve got free movement around the house. So as long as they’re delivering the idea of each scene, then it doesn’t matter: the more organic it is, the better. You want them to be confident enough in the concept that they can just run with anything. You’re going to have audience members who are really into it and they’re going to ask questions and get involved. And you’re going to have audience members that are just terrified of it. So you need to know how to respond to both, and today we’ve just been prepping them for that: how do you ask the audience questions? What questions to ask them? What to expect them to ask you? So that’s how we’ve been preparing.
RK: And have you been able to get in the space? What was your first impression?
SAM: The space is brilliant. We, as in the producers, the director and me the writer, know the space, so we’ve had that in mind while we’ve been developing it. But the actors haven’t yet been in the space, so there’s definitely an element of risk!
RK: It really is like a house warming then!
SAM: Exactly! There’s a lot that could go wrong on the night, basically! As much as you plan, there’s always going to be things when you’re doing site-specific theatre that you just can’t predict. It’s very rare to be in the venue before the actual opening, so we’ve got to prepare the best we can and be ready for things to just go a little bit wrong. As long as you are prepared for that and aren’t worried about that, you’ve got to know that just winging it is the best thing you can do. The venue is great though and because it is a run-down, old house we’ve made that part of the comedy. We’ve got the lead character a bit house-proud, showing it off and saying, ‘Oh isn’t this great! Aren’t these wooden floors brilliant!’
RK: ‘These are really nice period features!’
SAM: Yes! Whereas the male character is like, ‘Oh, watch out for the dodgy floorboards!’ The irony is that I would so love living there.
RK: Why should people come to see DRINKS?
SAM: I think this will be a lot of fun. I think a lot of people think that immersive or site-specific theatre is somehow arty or just people that are really into high-brow theatre. Ours isn’t at all like that. It’s quite populist and we’re proud of the fact that it’s accessible: it’s about real people in their late twenties, early thirties. It’s issues that everyone can relate to like feeling jealous of other people, feeling like they’re not keeping up with their mates, feeling like they’re not doing enough or going out enough. It’s just going to be really good fun, really easy to identify with. The characters are all nice, they’re all different and they’ve got real problems. So I think if you’re new to immersive, it’s a great one to go for.
RK: It’s a good spring board.
RK: And finally, how have you found working with the Basic Space team?
SAM: It’s our first time collaborating so it’s lovely not to be on our own. We’ve never really had anyone to go to and be like, ‘What would you do? Can you help us with this?’ And I’m also excited about seeing the other shows. We’ve all been so busy in the run up to our own shows and it’ll be nice when we get to that first day when we can’t do any more prep and it’s happening, because then we can enjoy the festival as regular punters which will be really good. So it’s nice to be involved with more theatre people.
RK: And especially in these spaces like Theatre Delicatessen.
SAM: Yes! That’s been such a bonus, because for an independent production company the main cost is rehearsal space. And the irony is to make a show really, really good, you need as much time in rehearsal rooms as possible. Normally, that would cost a fortune so you’re really restricted. But on this occasion, we’ve really made the most of it being able to use the space for free.